TT RUGBY Football Union (TTRFU) secretary Maria Thomas is intent on becoming the first-ever female president of the local sporting fraternity.
Thomas is the lone presidential candidate running against incumbent Colin Peters at the TTRFU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and elections on April 20. Her nomination was proposed by domestic club Stag Trinidad Northern rugby football club.
Owing to the pandemic, the 2020 AGM was not held and therefore, all TTRFU executive positions will be contested this year.
As a national player, Thomas has been heavily involved in communities, domestic leagues and representing TT at the highest level. The veteran UWI player believes she has what it takes to take charge of the TTRFU and brings to the table a variety of modern ideas to both help reinvigorate the sport locally and boost participation.
Since the outbreak of covid19 in March 2020, and the nationwide shutdown of team sports, rugby remains at a standstill.
Thomas said, “I have been inspired to run for the position because I have community support and was asked to run for the position. As a national player and secretary of the union, I’m the first woman to be on the executive of the TTRFU.
“I have been able to see the impact of the role of governance and leadership on players. Sometimes we think that these things are very separate but the impacts that athletes feel are directly coming from the decisions that are made in administration.
“I have a unique perspective in that way that I can make decision that will positively impact athletes and create more opportunities for coaches, referees, officials and administrators,” she said.
However, Thomas says her plans, if elected, centre around a return to rugby with less players and minimal contact.
She intends to incorporate tag rugby – a non-contact team game in which each player wears a belt that has two velcro tags attached to it, or shorts with velcro patches. The mode of play is similar to touch football.
Attacking players attempt to dodge, evade and pass a rugby ball while defenders attempt to prevent them scoring by pulling a velcro (tagging) attached tag from the ball carrier, rather than a full contact tackle. Tag rugby is used in development and training by both rugby league and rugby union communities.
“It’s a platform that many teams can be involved in. It’s like tag so the contact is less. People can put in teams and then you organise the competition around covid19 restrictions.
“It’s something that can help with contact tracing because moving forward, all of the structures that we put in place should be such that whatever happens with the global community, we won’t be thrown off the rails again. We will be able to continue in the capacity based on the framework that I set up,” she added.
Tag-X is expected be officially launched worldwide in 2022. By that time, according to Thomas, TT’s players would have already been familiarised with the game before its rolled out globally.
The last time Thomas played for the national team was at the Pan American Games in Peru in 2019. She completed a Masters in Sport Administration from the Russia International Olympic University in Sochi during 2020.
During her many travels abroad as an athlete, Thomas has been networking and getting resources that she can apply to the local rugby fraternity.
Initially, she played with the UWI men’s team and then shifted to the Caribs women’s team. Thomas returned to the UWI female outfit and then joined forces with the institution’s Tobago squad. She has also trained with Harvard men’s team which she considered a great help leading up to previous competitions.
Looking ahead, she plans to bring about a positive change to the TTRFU. While she applauds the works of the incumbent, Thomas believes there is more to be done.
“We are challenging each other and I have worked with him for the past five years on the executive. He’s been very consistent with rugby but the sport has changed. The game has changed, developed and the way that we communicate has changed,” she said.
Although TTRFU presidency is a voluntary position, Thomas is intent on making her possible appointment a full-time commitment.
She continued, “It’s a volunteer position but I’m treating it as a full-time position because I know, from seeing what happened behind-the-scenes, that it requires full-time attention.
“We don’t have the infrastructure right now. We aren’t set up as a business where it can be full-time jobs. But even though people can’t be paid full-time for the contributions, what we need is someone to be available full-time.
“If that is done we will be able to build to a point where the workload is now being shared throughout the community, establishing the appropriate communities to deal with different issues that need to be addressed.”
At present, world rugby is striving towards gender parity in all areas of the game through participation, coaching, officiating and in administration.
Thomas added that TT now has 40 per cent women in coaching and managerial positions in the national programme. She also said that the TT Olympic Committee and SporTT have been very active over the past year in providing courses, webinars, seminars, opportunities, Caribbean-specific coaching courses to both male and female enthusiasts.
Thomas believes this knowledge is a huge asset to making the educational component accessible to people here.
At the TTRFU elections, each full member club has two votes and each affiliate body has one vote. Altogether, there are 13 domestic clubs and two affiliate bodies – TT Schools’ Rugby Union and the TT Rugby Referees Society.